Thursday, March 27, 2008

TSA: Our Tax Dollars at Work; Protecting the Flying Public from Nipple Rings

I am not making this up.

"Traveler says she was forced to remove nipple ring"
CNN (March 27, 2008)

Mandi Hamlin's nipple rings set off metal detectors when she was trying to get on a flight from Lubbock to Dallas.

The TSA agents got a look at them, and could see that they were the usual sort of nipple piercings. Then they said that she'd have to take them off. Or, rather, out. One came out with relatively little trouble. The other took a pliers to pull out.

Then the agents let her on the plane, even though she was still wearing a belly button ring.

Given how the TSA agents apparently thought, that was a major blunder. She might have pulled that ring, and blown up her belly!

Maybe the TSA should consider placing employees with twelve brain cells or less in management positions, where they will be comparatively harmless.

Or maybe Congress should appoint a special committee to determine whether nipple rings are deadly weapons. If they aren't dangerous, perhaps a costly training program might get the point across to those people at the airport checkpoints.

Seriously, I hope that the majority of people who operate those security checkpoints are intelligent, reasonable, people. The minority (I hope) of alternatively competent ones make me profoundly glad that I'm unlikely to use commercial airlines again.

I have two artificial hips, and don't want to think about what it would take to remove them in an airport.
Update March 29, 2008

"Nipple ring search procedures faulty, TSA admits"

CNN (March 28, 2008)

You don't say.

More seriously, TSA's statement that the nipple ring incident resulted from TSA officers following an established protocol makes the situation worse. Earlier this week, I could think that we might be looking at a few irresponsible agents.

Now, I'm reminded of what an Israeli said, several years ago, comparing Israeli and American air travel security system: 'We have a system for detecting terrorists. You have a system for annoying people.'

Hey! Look at the Babe With the Rings!

Excerpts from the article:

"More officers were called over, and the group grew to four male and two female TSA officers, according to Hamlin. Also, a small crowd of onlookers had started to gather. ..."

"She eventually was taken to a private area behind a curtain to remove the piercings, Allred [Hamlin's lawyer] said. One came out easily, but the other would not, and she called to an officer that she was having trouble and would need pliers. She was handed a large pair, Allred said.

" 'As Ms. Hamlin struggled to remove the piercing, behind the curtain she could hear a growing number of predominately male TSA officers snickering in the background,' Allred said in the letter [to the TSA]."

"Afterward, Hamlin underwent another scan, but realized she had forgotten to remove her navel ring. She offered to remove it, Allred said, but an officer told her it was not necessary because he could see it. Hamlin wondered why a similar visual inspection of her nipple rings would not have sufficed, Allred said."

Fear Not! The TSA is On Watch!

And I do mean "watch," snicker-snicker.

"... the TSA said it 'is well aware of terrorists' interest in hiding dangerous items in sensitive areas of the body. Therefore, we have a duty to the American public to resolve any alarm that we discover.'

"TSA included in its statement a picture of a prototype training device it will use to simulate a "bra bomb" in training and testing its officers.

" ... 'People who are pierced should not be snickered at, should not become the object of ridicule, should not be singled out for special and uneven and unequal treatment,' Allred said. 'They should be respected just like everybody else.' "

I've personally regarded piercing as a silly, and remarkably long-running, fad. But, that said: "They should be respected just like everybody else." is spot on.

Good News, but Not Very Good

One idea I salvaged from the wreckage of this collision between a bureaucracy's procedures and the real world was the knowledge that the TSA is considering the possibility of changing its ways.

Or, at least, willing to say that it is.

There's no question that terrorists are getting more sophisticated about hiding explosives and weapons on, and probably in, people. I'm relieved to hear that the TSA is aware of this: and seems to be actively pursuing a response to the terrorists' new tactics.

On the other hand, I'd have hoped that the TSA would have considered the possibility that it was necessary to train its agents to distinguish between a woman's breasts, and a bomb.

Finally, I find the behavior of the TSA crew that Hamlin ran into appalling. Calling the guys over to, ah, look over the situation, might be understandable, if the girl TSA agent was the crew's junior member. But, snickering as a woman removes nipple rings is something else.

It wouldn't be particularly surprising behavior from some frat boys and one of their girlfriends.

Snickering TSA agents is another matter.

Quite aside from giving the public more reason to dislike federal agencies, it makes me wonder about the competence of TSA planners.

If the TSA procedures encourage, or require, TSA officers to turn an airport screening into a girlie show, and TSA hires people who enjoy treating women like that, the TSA needs to change, or be changed.

After this incident, if I were a terrorist planning an attack, I'd seriously consider using a pierced woman as a decoy. It's possible that she could distract and detain the agents enough, so that the next several passengers wouldn't be quite so carefully screened.

Particularly if they had low entertainment value.


Anonymous said...

The war on terror has become the war on common sense!!

Anonymous said...

Come on you all...think. Tucked inside this lay's bra is something metal. She says it is is two steel bar nipple rings. But it could be absolutely anything (depending on cup size), including a knife or several doze 9mm handgun rounds. A metal detector can't tell the difference, so unlike a visible earring, there's no way to tell without a really obscene strip search. So what else could they do except ask her to remove them? Next time, leave the nipple rings in the carry on bag. Who in the US still does not get that there is a metal detector at every single airport? I'm happy to be mad about the stupid rule on 3oz packages, but lets be smart and make sure all metal objects go through the xray machine.

Brian H. Gill said...


I understand what you're saying.

And I have often urged people to think.

It's also a good idea to get some facts to think about.

Before posting this, I read the news article. Here's an excerpt: " Hamlin said she told the woman she was wearing nipple piercings. The agent called over her male colleagues, one of whom said she would have to remove the jewelry, Hamlin said.

Hamlin said she could not remove them and asked whether she could instead display her pierced breasts in private to the female agent. But several other male officers told her she could not board her flight until the jewelry was out, she said.

Yes, some women could hide a pair of CD players on their chest. Searches are necessary.

In this case, the woman offered to display her breasts to a female agent - and was refused.

Also, as cited in the article, skin often grows around nipple rings, making them somewhat difficult - and painful - to remove.

The suggestion that she should "leave the nipple rings in the carry on bag" seems prudent, but does not take into account the physiological realities involved.

In my opinion, the TSA agents in this incident acted in a manner which was at best is foolish, and at worst abusive.

Brian H. Gill said...


I think that an Israeli said this best, several years ago. (Sorry, I haven't tracked down the source.)

Comparing Israeli and American airline security, he observed:

'We have a system for detecting terrorists. You have a system for annoying people.'

It doesn't look like things have changed all that much.

Brian H. Gill said...

Regarding "trail mix" in anonymous #1's comment:

That's a reference to an earlier comment, which I have deleted.

I do not, as a rule, delete comments. However, in this case the comment:

* Was purportedly from a nationally-known figure
* Implied that the person had traveled to the far east for illicit purposes
* Used a non-existent URL based on this blog's address as the "profile page" of the nationally-known figure

I tolerate anonymous comments, because I recognize the diffidence which some people feel, when it comes to expressing themselves.

However, I do not tolerate efforts to impersonate another person.

Anonymous said...


Brian H. Gill said...


I hope you meant the TSA situation, not this post.

If the former, I agree. There are many diligent and mature people working for the TSA. Then, there are Keystone Kops like these.

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.